Posted in Anxiety, Bipolar, bpd, coping, Depression, mental health, OCD, PTSD, stigma

Stories from the Mental Hospital

**all names changed for privacy reasons

Two years ago, I graduated from a residential mental health facility. Yes, I lived in a psych ward for a few months (average stays were anywhere from 1-4 months). It doesn’t mean I was or am currently dangerous. It wasn’t legally required or forced on me. I was sick enough that I qualified for admission, and it was an incredible opportunity to make leaps and bounds in my mental health recovery. The hospital I stayed in (Rogers Memorial Hospital) is one of the best mental hospitals in the country. There were patients from all over the country and even some from other parts of the world. There was an intense screening process to determine if you qualified for admission. Then I was put on a waiting list and waited for a bed to open up for me.

So… why did I qualify? I struggle with 8 mental illnesses on a daily basis, including borderline personality disorder, type 1 bipolar, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. I was sick. Monthly visits to my psychiatrist and weekly therapy visits weren’t enough. I was on some medication, but it wasn’t the right concoction yet.  For 18 months or so leading up to my residential stay, I was in the ER at least twice a month for self-harm or active suicidal thoughts and was admitted to stay in an acute psych ward at least once a month. I was constantly suicidal and had attempted to take my life over 100 times by that point. There are multiple times I would have died had the police not broken into my apartment, or a friend had not physically held me back.  I wasn’t a danger to anybody else, but I was a grave danger to myself.

So one Friday afternoon, I got the call from Rogers that a bed would be available for me the following Wednesday. I was sent a detailed packing list, outlining the restrictions on what I could bring (the unit I stayed on was extremely self-harm and suicide-proof, so things like drawstrings in pants and spiral bound notebooks weren’t allowed). Naturally, I did my best to live it up for the next few days before I was “locked up” in the hospital. I ate so much junk food, stayed up late binging on Netflix, saw my friends one last time, ran around outside at 3am during a thunderstorm… you get the idea. Before I knew it, Wednesday had arrived and I was off on the adventure of a lifetime.

I was amazed at how massive the campus was when we pulled up to the hospital. I had been picturing a typical hospital, tall with lots of windows, not a lot of outdoor space. What I found was much nicer. There were half a dozen beautiful buildings. Gardens filled with statues and flowers sprawled out between the buildings, and you could see multiple gazebos poking up behind the bushes. We walked through the main doors and filled out some paperwork, then loaded my luggage into a van that would take me across campus to the FOCUS center where I’d be living. Yep, the grounds were so big we took a van to the building I’d be calling home.

I will never forget pulling into the FOCUS parking lot. My favorite building I’d seen so far on campus was the one we stopped in front of. We dragged my luggage through the front doors and into the office just inside. I met some of the staff and started my paperwork and assessments, which took about 2 hours to complete! My fellow patients were all very friendly and introduced themselves, telling me it was going to be okay. And with that, life in the mental hospital began.

At FOCUS, they just push you in head first. There was very little leeway given and they kept a strict, rigorous schedule that you were expected to follow, or you would be promptly kicked out (believe me, it happened). Each morning we’d start with mindfulness, then either art or “gym” before attending dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) with our therapist. After lunch, we had cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with our behavioral specialist (BS). We received plenty of homework in both therapy classes that kept us busy until dinner. Once a week we had a spirituality class and a nutrition class. Our evenings were filled with more homework time, as well as weekly activities like open gym, open art, going to the YMCA, or a trip to Target (to pick up snacks, clothes, anything we needed). We also met 1-on-1 with our therapist, BS, and the head psychiatrist every week. There were also sessions with our family every week or so, to keep our loved ones up to date on our progress and educate them on how to support us when we were discharged. We were given free time before bed and on the weekends. We could vote on activities we’d like to do on the weekends (go to a bookstore, an ice cream shop, a playground, etc) and went to the YMCA on Saturdays and Sundays.  To say we were busy was an understatement.

When we met with our therapist and BS privately during the week, we were given personal assignments to further specialize our care. Each patient was given a list of “bans” (harmful behaviors we weren’t allowed to engage in, such as self-harm, ruminating or reassurance seeking) that we tracked in a notebook, and reported to our BS on a daily basis. Our BS assigned us various exposure therapy exercises to complete and track, as well as positive activities that supported our hobbies and passions (I was supposed to do things like watch dance videos or learn new words in sign language). Our therapist gave us writing assignments, like exploring what recovery meant to us, or our ideal perfect day. The BS and therapist also decided what “level” we were on during our stay. The levels determined if we were allowed to do certain things or not, and were based on safety. For at least the first 48 hours of your stay, you were on “safety,” which meant you couldn’t go anywhere without staff supervision, including walking just down the hall for meals. This was so the staff could get to know you, and if you were at risk of trying to hurt yourself/ others or at risk for running away. You would be reverted back to being on “safety” if you ever did become a flight risk or a danger to yourself/ others. While on “safety” you were not allowed to leave campus for the group outings or the YMCA/ Target trips. For most levels, you were asked if you could be safe with scissors before you were allowed to use a pair. The next level up allowed you to go on the outings and go places in the building without staff supervision. As the levels progressed, you would be allowed to walk around campus with other patients and without staff, and eventually you could roam on your own. Everything was completely personalized to our situations and really added a lot to the overall therapeutic experience.

Being in a residential treatment had its ups and downs, and my time there wasn’t without its fun and drama. So here are some of the more prominent memories from my time living at Rogers.

Jim and Lexi were my two closest friends at Rogers, and two years later the three of us are still very close and talk weekly. Jim arrived 2 days before I did, and coincidentally left 2 days before me as well. Lexi arrived and a few weeks after me. Jim and I were in the same small group, and had a wonderful connection from the beginning. He is into card tricks, and since my dad is a professional magician, we had fun bonding over magic. Lexi was quiet at first, but when she warmed up, she, Jim and I were inseparable. Lexi was also in our small group. When the three of us reached a high enough level, we would go on long walks on campus and talk about the drama on the ward, homework, life… anything really. These were genuinely my favorite times during those few months. It was spring, so the air smelled wonderful, flowers were beautiful and birds were singing. We’d hike in the woods on campus, and get lost in each other’s company. Those walks helped me forget that I was living in a hospital. I felt like a typical, stable and accepted person. Sometimes I imagine my walks with them to help me fall asleep at night.

Sky was a lot like me. She was also in my small group, and we instantly bonded over Broadway and American Sign Language. She could put her feet behind her head and make a face and noise as if she were “possessed,” and we liked to joke that she should do that when someone new comes to the unit to scare ’em into thinking living on a psych ward is like in the movies. We never did this, obviously, but it was fun to laugh about.

One time, most of us created personas for everybody and sometimes pretended we were the cast from a sitcom… life on the ward was certainly weird enough to provide material for a TV show. We went for the classic stereotypes… there was the jock, the hippie (me), the nerd, the princess, the thespian, the bad-ass, the southern boy, the surfer dude, the player… you get the gist. Honestly, that helped us get through some of the more intense drama, to pretend it was a sitcom plotline.

Speaking of drama, here’s one of the more dramatic things that happened while living at Rogers:

We were on a group outing one afternoon to a local craft store. Paul had asked earlier in the day if we could stop by a gas station so he could buy more cigarettes. This wasn’t unusual, as we were the only unit that allowed outdoor smoking during certain times, and there were opportunities for the smokers to buy more when they ran out. In this particular instance, the staff said no, we could not stop for cigarettes on this outing. Paul was upset by this, and when he found out there was a drug store right down the strip mall from where the craft store was, he formed a plan with Becca and Rose. Paul was a high enough level that when we were at the craft store, he didn’t have to stay within sight of the staff member like the rest of us did. Becca and Rose picked and end cap that displayed bubbles and purposefully knocked a lot of them over, making a loud ordeal out of the whole thing. This distracted the staffer, and Paul knew he could successfully sneak out of the store and run down to the drug store to get cigarettes. Back in the store, a lady who worked there approached Becca and Rose, making sure everything was okay and chastising them for being so loud. The lady also complained that they weren’t supposed to be carrying large bags in the store (all of us had backpacks that we took pretty much everywhere, that contained all of our skills worksheets and various fidgets and things to help us mentally). Becca seized the chance to fake-freak-out, exclaiming that the backpack was her medical bag because she lived at the mental hospital in the area. The lady quickly backed off and cautiously tried to diffuse the situation by treating Becca like a rabid raccoon or something. It was a very stigmatized situation, but also pretty funny.

Whenever we got back from a trip where we could buy stuff, the staff checked our purchases (and sometimes our bags), to make sure everything was safe to be on the unit. Cigarettes had to be kept in the nurse’s office and smokers had to ask get one during specific smoke times. Our rooms were searched daily, so Paul decided to turn in his cigarettes he had snuck away to buy, with his thought process being “there’s nothing they can do about it now!” Naturally, the staff were not pleased. At all. They took the pack and refused to give them back. Paul became upset, and got into a heated debate with the staff because the cigarettes were his property, and if he wanted a cigarette during the smoke break, he should be allowed to have one since he spent his money on it. During this heated debate, Lucy needed one of her “as needed” medications, and also went into the nurse’s office to ask for her pill. The staff were trying to deal with Paul’s outbreak, and asked Lucy to come back later. This made Lucy upset, because she needed her medication and didn’t like being denied because of Paul (only one person was allowed in the nurse’s office at a time). An explosive argument broke out and one of the staffers moved the rest of us into another room to keep prying eyes away and simply to get us away from the situation. We all sat awkwardly in the room across from the nurse’s office, still able to hear the muffled shouts of Paul and Lucy. A handful of us were emotionally upset at this point, feeling triggered by the argument and screaming. No one really said a word. Then we heard a loud bang from outside the door (Paul had punched the wall) and that sent 2 or 3 of us into genuine panic attacks. The staff were busy trying to deal with Paul and Lucy, and so there weren’t staffers around to help us with our panic attacks. It was intense, to say the least. There was drywall missing from the wall, and Paul’s had was the size of a baseball… literally. Things were intense for the next few days on the unit.

There were other “classic Hollywood” things that happened, like the police were called when one of my roommates tried to run away, or when a patient had been hiding his medications under his tongue and stock piling them to snort in the bathroom (so we were moved to a different unit for the evening while the police searched everything). But honestly, it wasn’t like the movies for the most part. We played card games, watched TV, did our homework, took our sedation meds early in the evening so we could get super out of it and have “drunken” conversations late at night.

There was one weekend where Rose had her senior prom that night. Unlike most of the residents, she lived in the area, and her high school was close by. She was given permission to leave that night for prom, but she had to get ready on the unit. Some of us girls helped her shop for her dress online (we could get mail while living on the unit). The day of prom, all of us girls piled into one of the 3 single-stall bathrooms on the unit (which was totally not allowed) to help her get ready. Thankfully we had two female staffers working that night who let us do it. There was a no-touching rule on the unit, normally we couldn’t do anything from painting each others nails to giving hugs… absolutely no contact (touching leads to feelings, and feelings lead to relationships, and we were there to get healthy, and relationships would distract us from that goal). That night we were “permitted” to help Rose do her hair, make-up and nails (I say that with quotation marks because we definitely would have gotten in trouble if any of the higher up staffers found out). We listened to music (on our old school iPod touchs because no phones or electronics with cameras were allowed so we all bought old iPods without cameras) and all of us girls dressed fancy to support Rose. Us girls were very close, we loved to sit in the hallway and have chat circles and talk about boys, life on the outside, our families and friends, and the current gossip on the unit.

There was a Wii that was shared between the 3 floors of our building. Whenever my floor got it (which was more often than not), most of the my fellow patients and I would hold Wii tournaments. There was a whiteboard in the room that had the Wii, and we’d create brackets and go head to head in bowling or tennis. We’d blast “Panic! At the Disco” and eat chips and rice crispy treats (there was always an excess of them in the cafeteria. If you would have walked in that room, you wouldn’t have been able to tell we were all severely mentally ill. We were just normal 20 somethings playing Wii on a Sunday night.

Sometimes when people are sick, they need to stay in the hospital. If you have a heart attack or a stroke, you stay in the hospital. Our brains are sick, so we stayed in a hospital. We’re not people you need to fear. You can be our friend. The people I met while living at Rogers are all people worthy and deserving of friends… not people who need to be shunned and shut away. We don’t need to hide because of who we are, and you don’t need to hide from us. Living in a psychiatric hospital comes with a heavy stigma, and believe me, I’ve endured a lot solely because of I lived there. It isn’t like Hollywood, so please stop treating it like it is.

 

Posted in bpd, coping, diagnosis, mental health, stigma

Being Invisibly Ill

I deal with 14 invisible illnesses every day. If you saw me on the street, I wouldn’t look sick. I wouldn’t look disabled. My illnesses are internal. Because of this, I often deal with the fear that I won’t be believed when I call in sick to work or cancel plans. In my past, there was a myriad of situations where I was made out to be exaggerating or lying. I once had a mentor say to me: “It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that I don’t believe you anymore.” There were a couple times I was admitted to the psych ward for suicidal thoughts/ attempts, and either my support group or even DOCTORS would doubt my suicide attempts as being real. As a result, I tend to overexplain everything (often to the annoyance of whoever I’m talking to). I sweat the little things and feel like I have to defend everything that comes out of my mouth as truth.

So when it comes to my illnesses, the same fears apply. Mentally I struggle. I’m either manic or depressed because of my bipolar. My emotions are four times as strong because of my borderline. I’m obsessed with the fear of harm coming to myself or others (OCD). I worry about everything (anxiety). I avoid and restrict what I ear (eating disorders). I live in a near chronic state of feeling traumatized (PTSD). My head is always spinning. My stomach is paralyzed, so I’m on a strict diet and am currently malnourished (despite being ~200 lbs, so I don’t look like it). This basically makes me feel like I’ve come down with a bad case of the flu 24/7. I suffer from chronic pain in many places, sensory processing issues, cysts on my ovaries and pre-diabetes. With these things and everything else I have going on, there is never a day that I feel like healthy. It is almost impossible for me to participate in everyday life activities. When I work a 3-hour shift (the maximum amount I can work per day as determined by doctors), it feels like I worked a 9-hour shift (which I used to do before I got sick). I can barely get out of bed for the rest of the day. Laundry is a daunting task that I usually have to span over multiple days by washing on one day, drying on another day, folding and putting away over the next few days. I’m lucky if I can shower once a week. The pain builds when I cook food to the point where I’m in too much pain to eat what I cooked, and have to stick it in the fridge for later. Same goes for grocery shopping. I usually do it late at night so I can sleep off the pain after completing the task. I’m sick, and it rules my life.

I do my best to live life to the fullest despite being sick. I carefully plan out my week so I have at least 2 days a week where I don’t have any commitments, so I can lay in bed all day and recuperate. I’ll watch TV, write stuff on my laptop, play video games or read a book. I light a candle, use baby wipes to keep myself clean and drink lots of water. I know that if I work, I won’t be able to do anything for the rest of the day. I try to plan fun activities, like board games with friends, after a doctor appointment that might be difficult. I call friends and talk to them on my days I’m stuck in bed. I do my best to be happy.

Even with all of this, I still struggle with the fear of not being believed. I loathe calling in sick at work, in part because I love my job and hate missing it, but also because I’m scared my coworkers won’t understand. Recently all three managers were sick with chills, fever, cough, etc. but they all still came into work. I felt especially useless calling into work sick during that time. I felt like a wimp because they were toughing out their sickness for work, while I wasn’t. Images flashed through my head of them complaining about me being weak. It was a challenge for me to remind myself that their sickness was different than my sickness.

Living with any illness, visible or not, temporary or chronic, is a challenge. The flu is a marathon. Chronic illness is like eternal back-to-back marathons. Not having anything visible to identify to strangers that I’m sick is a struggle that I deal with every day. I’m constantly trying to prove to my coworkers that I’m sick (even though they are lovely and don’t actually need proof). Having a medical ID bracelet is helpful for me beyond just the practical use for first responders. It helps me feel validated, and it’s visible proof that I’m sick. I feel validated when I look at it. I deal with invisible illness every day, and I learn something new every day. It’s a challenge, but it’s my challenge.

Posted in mental health, PTSD, stigma

#MeToo

This is my experience dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault. Although I do not go into any detail over what happened and solely talk about what happened afterward, I’m placing a TW:
TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about SEXUAL ASSAULT which may be triggering to those who have been sexually assaulted or are sensitive to the topic.

Kindergarten. 5 years old. An adult acquaintance. Too young to even know what was going on.

Third Grade. 8 years old. Perpetrators were classmates, no one believed me because how could an 8 year old do something like that?

Last summer. 21 years old. Durning a massage. Was told by an acquaintance afterward: “Why didn’t you enjoy it? I’d love to have a massage therapist make a move on me during a massage!”

The 24 hours after I was sexually assaulted last summer was probably one of the worsts day of my life… and speaking as a mentally ill kid who’s suffered abuse from friends and strangers alike, I feel as though that’s saying something. I was sexually assaulted during a massage (not at the spa I worked at the time). It was a Monday. I spent the rest of my day in denial. I kept telling myself it was an accident, or that it was all in my head. I actually had a good rest of my day hanging with some close friends. But when I slowed down my brain enough to get ready for bed, reality came crashing back down. I cried harder than I’ve cried in my life. For the first time in over a year, none of my coping skills were working. I couldn’t lay down to go to sleep without an intense fear that it was about to happen again. I wanted to believe it wasn’t assault. I called the sexual assault hotline and talked to them. They assured me it wasn’t all in my head, and that what happened to me was definitely assault. They explored my options with me before hanging up. I had a plan. I was going to go to my therapy appointment the next morning and have my therapist help me report the assault. But my appointment was still a whole 12 hours away. None of that helped me now though. I called my best friend to tell her what happened. It was 1 am by this point, and we couldn’t talk long. It helped to have someone know what happened and have their empathy. After a couple more hours of failed attempts to distract myself with self-care and coping skills, I called my other friend out of sheer panic and fear. I was in hysterics at this point in the night. I could not come to terms with what happened… even in the weeks following I found myself unable to cope with the idea that this man had done such a terrible thing to me.
When it finally came time to go to my therapist’s office, I was beside myself with anxiety. When the police arrived at her office, I found myself face to face with a male officer. I hadn’t thought about it until that moment, but I didn’t want to spend the day with a male stranger… last time I was alone with a stranger he sexually assaulted me. I don’t know how, but I was able to make the report. The officer proceeded to take me to the hospital to meet with forensics where they were going to extract the massage therapist’s DNA from my body. It was a very traumatic experience. Having PTSD from prior trauma, I knew I was familiar with the fight, flight or freeze experience. But until that day in the forensics room, I had no idea just how frozen one can get. On the exam table during the procedure, I completely froze. I couldn’t move even if I tried. I laid there for at least 5 minutes, crying and unable to move. I couldn’t even move to scratch an itch.

The worst part of this process what the advice I seemed to get from everybody: “Don’t tell the police about your mental health issues.” Friends, my therapist, the rape crisis counselors who met me at the hospital to support me. Their reasoning? Because they might dismiss my case because I was mentally ill. The argument could be made that I’m overly paranoid or made it up in my head. I was furious! The mental health stigma was… IS bad enough that I had to go out of my way to hide one of the main factors in my life so that I would hopefully be believed?!? I felt like I was manipulating the situation, or lying by omission and that I would get into trouble for it. In fact, the only reason I’m now choosing to tell my story is because I recently got the call from the detective saying that they were dismissing my case (not enough evidence). I was told that I couldn’t post on my blog, Instagram or Facebook just to be safe. I was nervous that I’d get found out, mess it up, and not get justice. Well, now that justice will not be served. I’m speaking out:

I am a survivor of sexual assault. #metoo

Posted in coping, mental health, stigma

Logan Paul’s Aokigahara Vlog – My Thoughts

TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about SUICIDE and SUICIDAL THOUGHTS/ ATTEMPTS which may be triggering to those who struggle with suicidal ideation.

You’ve probably heard of Logan Paul’s latest vlog that he posted that has generated high amounts of media coverage for his vlog where he went into Japan’s Aokigahara, or “suicide forest” and discovered a dead body. The general consensus is outrage at his insensitivity and decision to post the video. Others jump to his defense, saying that his laughter and jokes were his way of coping with an overwhelming situation. Before I posted this blog post, I wanted to make sure I gathered as much information as I could so I could form a real conclusion for myself. I watched the video and his apology, as well as read opinion articles and opinions that come from both sides of the “argument”.

Logan Paul had ~15 million subscribers on YouTube when he posted his video that was filmed on December 31, 2017. His “New Year’s Eve” goal was to post something that met a two-year-old goal of his to “slow it down and go somewhere isolated.” If that was the goal, there are a THOUSAND other places that could meet those criteria. Many of his followers are kids in their tweens, and many parents cried out in frustration when they were forced to tell their kids about suicide before they felt their kids were in a place to be able to handle that kind of conversation.

Something that immediately bothered me, before he even goes into the forest, is when he announces the name of the forest as “the suicide forces” he grabs one of his friends by the back of the neck and pulls him into the shot. As a survivor of a near-fatal suicide attempt by hanging, this made me uncomfortable. Whenever someone touches my neck since my attempt, I immediately get a sick feeling in my stomach. With suicide already on my brain due to the nature of the video, seeing someone pull on another’s neck made me want to hurl in discomfort over the flood of unwelcome memories.

Paul and his crew reveal their plan to camp in Aokigahara overnight, and when showing what they’ve packed, the item that stuck out to me was a football. I don’t know what on earth they were thinking. “We’re going camping in a forest where a hundred people kill themselves every year… let’s toss a football around the campsite!” The insensitivity was already glaringly apparent. They also mock the fact that the football says “signs” on it, and at the end of the video Paul loudly exclaims that they should have listened to the football. Paul proceeds to don a lime green alien-like hat and a “f***ing Gucci jacket” covered in colorful print and patches because he “wants to look good”. Paul then mocks his friend for saying “dead serious” by a suicide forest and then laughs with a big ole smile. You can hear him chuckling when he talks about the folklore that claims the spirits of the deceased “lure the sad and lost off the path.”

Next, they venture into the forest… “just a dumb Americans going camping…” Dumb is right. Paul makes an announcement to the ghosts in the forest, asking them to leave his group alone before the crew sets off, leaving the path. It’s not long before they discover a body hanging from a tree, and from their assessments, apparently “looks fresh.” A crew member immediately calls the police. You can immediately tell that Paul and his friends are deeply shaken by this finding, and you can see the emotion on their faces. At the very least, this is where the cameras should have turned off out of respect for the deceased and their loved ones. But no, they film the body. Yes, they blurred out the face, but it’s still disrespectful to continue filming. Turn the cameras off so you can deal with your preliminary emotions without having to “play to the camera.” Paul even admits that this was supposed to be a “fun vlog,” which is particularly upsetting because nothing respectful can come from filming a “fun vlog” in Aokigahara. Even if the video ended up being the crew camping and laughing over the “spookiness” and telling ghost stories, it would have been disrespectful because of the location. Thousands of people have lost their mother, brother, or best friend in that story. It’s not a place to mock their pain with a fun camping trip.

Paul does address the fact that mental illness is real and that you are not alone. He does slow down and gets serious. But if I was one of his followers watching the video, the laughter and the jokes would overpower the statement he makes. “Actions speak louder than words,” and when you are galavanting through a place known for attracting people with feelings similar to mine, a generic statement saying “you’re not alone” is the last thing I want to hear from you. Your actions have already screamed way too loud, Logan.

Upon leaving the forest, Paul is seen drinking and excitedly conversing with fans they ran into. Why he chose to include that in the video, I’ll never know.

He later issued an apology video, which I’m not even going to get into, but I will say this: you are not required to accept his apology. Just because he issued an apology does not mean you need to excuse what he did or especially how he made you feel. It doesn’t invalidate you or what you are going through.

Overall I’m left with a really sad, unsettled feeling. This video sickens me. Even Paul himself says that his jokes are a coping mechanism, but the jokes started way before the body was found.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please know that there are many resources available to you in your time of need. You can call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or, if talking to a stranger feels like too much, text HELLO to 741741 to talk to a certified crisis counselor for free. Neither of these resources will immediately jump to calling the police. They are there to listen to you and provide support. And if the police where to even be involved, it’s not as bad as you think. They are also there solely to get you the help you need.

Posted in mental health, stigma

First Look: My New Book!

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo) and writing a mental health self-help book! That’s why I’ve been so inactive on my blog. I’ve spent the last 19 days writing over 30,000 words, with my end-goal being 50,000+ words. For those of you who have been with me since the beginning of my blog, you know that Ungluing Stigma (US) started out as a book, but I got overwhelmed and decided to write a blog instead. With US, I found my voice within the mental health community and what topics I had a passion for writing about. It was my New Years Resolution to write 10,000 words a month to “train” for nanowrimo. If you’re interested in what my book will be about, specifically, here’s a first look at my introduction! And feel free to leave me your thoughts in the comments, I would love the feedback.

SNEAK PEEK: What to Do (When You Don’t Know What to Do)

If you’re like me, high school was rough. And again, if you’re like me, you sucked at the social aspect. Relationships are hard. While high school may have taught you physics and advanced calculus, it didn’t teach you how to navigate rough waters when your best friend was angry with you, and is certainly didn’t teach you healthy coping skills when life just seemed to be too much. Once again, if you’re like me, you had to learn these things the hard way, losing a few friendships and maladaptively coping along the way . This book is here to change that. Well, not change the past necessarily (although that would be pretty cool), but to fill your toolbox with skills to help you manage life… to not simply survive, but to thrive.

I wrote this book because like it or not, there is a stigma surrounding mental health. It can show up in little ways, like when you friend doesn’t hang around anymore after you tell them you have depression because they don’t want to be around “an attention seeking burden” (which remember, is not true). Or it can show up in big ways, like when people blame terrorist attacks on a mental health problem. This stigma prevents people from getting help. I was one of those people. I was so ashamed of being “abnormal” that I felt like I was dooming myself by admitting that I thought I had depression. I avoided therapy and mental health diagnosis for years solely out of shame. I let it all build up inside of me for years until I snapped. I suddenly was convinced that I needed to be locked up in an insane asylum because I was “dangerous” and unwell. It was only then, when I sought professional help, that I realized having a mental illness doesn’t make you a dangerous, or even a bad, person. Since then I have been through years of intense therapy, even living in a mental hospital for a portion of 2016, to get to where I am now. And the sad part is, most of the things I’ve learned… most of the skills I use on a daily basis to keep myself stable and safe… aren’t things that you have access to in your everyday life. People struggling with anxiety can’t benefit from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in most places, because it’s generally just for those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder. The truth of the matter is that DBT is packed full of tools to help people manage anxiety, crises and even everyday relationship problems. None of my relationships would be what they are today without DBT. It’s something I firmly believe everyone should have access to (more on why later). Living in a mental hospital was like high school in a sense, because we had classes all day every day, and mountains of homework every night, learning skills to help us live the best life we can. But a program like that tends to have waiting lists that can take months or even years to get off of, and you have to go through a lot of screenings and doctors appointments to even be considered for a spot. It’s my hope, my dream, that this book can help people build a foundation for their lives with access to dozens of life skills that normally they wouldn’t have access to. I want to make mental health accessible to everyone, not just the sickest of us… ironically.

I also wrote this book to share my story. I want to give you a glimpse into my life and into my head, to show you that a stable and healthy life is achievable, and is a lot closer than you may think. I hope to inspire you with my pitfalls, showing you the ropes that were tossed to me at rock bottom and how I climbed back out, again and again. If I can do it, so can you.

You’ll notice as you read more of the book that I’ll refer to the same event in my life throughout this book. This serves two purposes, and neither of which are to annoy you. The first is that I designed this book to not necessarily be read from start to finish. It’s okay if you jump around, so you might miss the first time I tell the story and find yourself lost as to what I’m talking about when I refer to something in my life. The other reason is that I hope you begin to truly understand the situation I was in, and how I used multiple tools to help me in the same situation. I want to give you a multidimensional look at my story to show that there are many ways to approach a situation, and there can be a lot to learn from even one situation that can give you insight in how to improve your life.

The therapy book I’ve found the most helpful in my recovery was a book written by a doctor and it was similar to this one because it included various life skills to improve your life. It also had various made up patients whose stories demonstrated a practical application of the concepts and skills. I found this exceedingly helpful. It made me feel less alone on my journey to recovery while showing me how to actually apply the skill. I struggled with the fact that their lives were made up though… of course the skill helped them! You can make up any ending you want to their story! The difference between my book and that one is that I’m not a doctor or a licensed professional, I’m the patient, so I can legally share my own story and provide you with living proof that these tools can radically change your life. I don’t want this book to be a textbook filled with skills that eventually gets overwhelming because too many things are being thrown at you at once. I want this to be a journey. Our journey. If I bring you on my journey and teach you the skills that I’ve learned, I hope that you can increase your quality of life and begin an epic journey of your own.

Posted in mental health, stigma

Mental Health and Mass Shootings

Sorry I’ve been MIA. My laptop quit on me and I had to get a new one.

Getting into politics and topics where people are very opinionated makes me very nervous. A few years ago I engaged in a conversation about politics and it ended with broken relationships and a sour taste in my mouth. I’m definitely a people pleaser and don’t enjoy conflict. Having Borderline Personality Disorder, I struggle with relationships as it is and would hate to give anyone a reason to abandon me. Plus my anxiety skyrockets trying to defend myself. The horrors that are plaguing our world are many, and it’s hard to stay silent and just watch on the sidelines. It’s also hard to know what to do. I’m just a 20something from Wisconsin with a blog, what can I do to help save lives? But when I think about it, if we all contributed what we could, the small things would eventually add up. So here’s my effort to make the world a better place in light of the Vegas shooting and the other tragedies that have kills hundreds across our world.

You can’t read an article about the mass shootings in our country without reading about mental health. One of the main focuses tends to be the state of the perpetrator’s mental health. While mental health may contribute to the attacks, it can be a burden put on the entire mental health community. I myself have had people say that I am dangerous and need to be locked away due to my mental health so I don’t shoot or knife anybody. The morning after the 2016 shooting in Florida, some ex-friends decided to discuss on social media that it’s people like me who commit these horrible attacks. This happened shortly after I had been fully discharged from my residential stay at a mental hospital. The fact that I was sick enough to stay at a hospital seemed reason enough to put me in a category with terrorists.

Does mental health contribute to these attacks? Probably. But there are a myriad of other factors that bring someone to pull a gun on others besides mental health. According to the Washington Post, things like criminal profit, acting on religious beliefs, disagreement with government views, and mistreatments like bullying or prejudice are suspected motivations for previous shootings in our country.

Putting sole blame and focusing all efforts on understanding why these things happen onto mental health greatly intensifies the mental health stigma. It gives people an excuse to treat us like criminals, rather than human beings, even when we personally have given them no reason to think we are dangerous people. It’s horrible, being judged and punished for something we haven’t done. It’s hard to even read headlines or watch the news, knowing that people who have never met you are making assumptions about who you are as a person.

In light of yet another tragedy that has struck our country, please remember to be kind to those of us with mental health. Not only is it devastating and stressful to deal with the emotions we feel learning of these horrors, but we’re also dealing with judgment and fear that we’ll be attacked, punished and humiliated based on the sole fact that we have a chemical imbalance in our brains.

Posted in Depression, mental health, stigma

A Note on Suicide Awareness Month

I think it’s awesome that social media is using it’s viralness to spread awareness on suicide. It’s a step in the right direction when it comes to ungluing the stigma and helping those of us with mental illness feel heard and understood. But I would be lying if I said this month is easy for me. I’m surrounded by constant reminders of the multiple attempts I’ve barely survived. The days my brain made life so unlivable that I felt I could do it no longer. The trauma that drove me to the edge. Each photo on Instagram and article on Facebook just picks off the scab I’ve put on suicide while I heal mentally. I’m reading statistics, wishing I was one of them. Topics on suicide hit me from left and right, it’s like going grocery shopping when you’re hungry. I know the hunger will pass, but in the cake aisle of pick-n-save, it’s impossible to ignore the hunger. The other 11 months of the year I have to fight off the “hunger” on my own, September just sticks me in the middle of a bakery.

Running a mental health blog, it’s no secret I dedicate my time to educating others about mental illness, including suicide. I know that as a neurodivergent. I offer a unique voice to the mix. I can speak to things that the mass public cannot fathom. But in September, I feel obligated to talk about my pain and trauma every day, to anyone online who makes a post. As if my OCD doesn’t force me to dwell on harm enough, now it’s everywhere I look for a month, dangling my pain in front of me, tempting me to engage in the harm. I imagine it’s similar to the thousands who have lost a loved one to suicide. It’s a long grieving process, filled with second guessing and questions. It can take years, so more than likely you’ll encounter Suicide Awareness Month, and be forced to confront your grief over and over before you’re ready.

It’s easy to stay quiet about this struggle. I don’t want to deter the overdue attention the mental health community is receiving. I don’t want anyone to feel bad or guilty for sharing photos, articles, and especially their stories. But it is Suicide Awareness Month, and to do this month proper justice, I think it’s important I share this side to suicide awareness.